My father hates parity. He prefers dynasties and dominance rather than a team of scrubs playing above their heads to accomplish great feats. Something I’ve never quite understood. Mind you, this is a man who believes coffee and contact lenses are as “performance enhancing” as HGH. A brilliantly stubborn man. That being said, I believe today’s MLB has more parity than any of the professional leagues this great nation has to offer. Looking at the league as a whole, I firmly believe 13 teams are legitimate World Series contenders. That’s right, more than a third of the league. And to be clear, a “shocker” would be the San Diego Padres winning an epic seven game series over the Baltimore Orioles. While I have already picked the Arizona Diamondbacks to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays in six games, that does not mean it is fact regardless of how much of a soothsayer I make myself out to be.
With an influx of young talent spread throughout the league mixed with established veterans I could make the case for 11 teams outside of the two I have picked as to why they are contenders. Aww hell, I have the time and a site to rant on, why not? Here is the deepest MLB preview of them all.
The “Why Not Us” Group
St. Louis Cardinals – Yes, last season’s World Series champs took a serious blow when they lost the best player of this generation to free agency. Yet, they still have one of the best rotations in the game with an above average bullpen. Pitching is everything (or at least, that’s what they tell me) and when Chris Carpenter comes back from the DL, they Cardinals will be in contention once again. The fact that they won last year with Edwin Jackson over Adam Wainwright still baffles me to no end. But hey, it happened. David Freese looks primed to take the jump from “good story” to “legitimate everyday player” and be held accountable for a chunk of the Cards’ offense. While repeating is tough enough, it’s hard to discount this club merely because Albert Pujols left for Anaheim.
Miami Marlins – The Marlins made most of the noise in the offseason when they brought in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell in about a five minute span. Regardless of their free agents they already had Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez, and Giancarlo Stanton on roster. Those are six high quality players paired with manager Ozzie Guillen. Yes they play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball but still they have the pitching to go along with their hitting. While I don’t think they will win it all, I would be exactly 0% shocked if they were holding the trophy in October.
Cincinnati Reds – Joey Votto. Nough said. In all seriousness, the Reds are kind of loaded without much fanfare league wide. They have pitching (Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, etc.) as well as some serious pop in their lineup (Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, etc.). The Reds are a solid team throughout who I have a tremendous amount of respect for. Not only do I believe they will win the Central I believe they will be a tough match when the second season rolls around. While Ryan Madson is lost for the season, Sean Marshall can be a more than competent closer for this team.
Boston Red Sox – Last year’s sexy pre-season favorite fizzled out come September and now the baseball world has written off the BoSox. Some “experts” even have them finishing fourth in their own division. To borrow a page from the book of Deion Sanders, “Hold On Playa.” Last I checked this is still a team with one of the most explosive offenses in all of baseball. David Ortiz is the best designated hitter in the game, and has been since 2004. Adrian Gonzalez is a top five first baseman with his bat and glove. Dustin Pedroia is a former Rookie of the Year, MVP, and World Series Champion. Add that to a staff with Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz and it’s hard to write off this team completely. Especially when you consider you read this far without seeing the names Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Kevin Youkilis.
Atlanta Braves – The other team who choked away their playoff hopes in September may be in better shape than their American League counterpart. The Braves have the excuse that they were young last season and the moment got too big for them. Plus, Jason Heyward was a shell of his rookie self and the hole in the lineup caused by his bat certainly did not help matters. Add in the fact that Tommy Hanson had to be shut down for the last two months and you have a team with almost zero contribution from two of their best players. This season, the Braves come in a year older with a healthy Hanson and a re-focused Heyward. Add in a reliable center fielder from the onset, remember the Braves still have one of the best bullpens in the league, and consider Freddie Freeman should build off of his impressive rookie campaign and you have a dangerous Braves team in a National League East looking for an identity. With the Marlins, Nationals, and Phillies garnering the majority of the national attention, the Braves can play the underdog card all the way through October and have Chipper Jones go out on the highest of notes.
Milwaukee Brewers – Out of the three teams in the NL Central that made it into this group, one of them will take home the division while the other two will fight for one Wild Card spot. You already know my feelings on the Reds and Cardinals, so here is what I truly believe about Milwaukee. The Brewers are going to dearly miss Prince Fielder as a player and a franchise face. Yes, Ryan Braun is an excellent player who can bare a load for sure but let’s be honest, no one is going to view him the same even if he was exonerated. Once a player is linked to steroids of any kind, they can never shake it. I do not believe the Brewers are a playoff team even with Zach Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum in the rotation. Replacing Fielder with Aramis Ramirez (essentially) is not enough and, while he was not the best player on this team, I believe they will miss Casey McGahee. That being said, I would be remiss to not give them a shot. They still have the NL MVP. They still have a former AL CY Young winner. They still have a solid pen. While I don’t trust them, you cannot discount the Brewers.
The National “Favorites”
Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim by way of St. Louis via Arlington – The LAAoAbwoSTLvA (catchy, no?) were the proverbial Hot Stove Champions. Signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson while adding a healthy Kendrys Morales after a lost 2011 will certainly do that. Many believe the Angels have the best pitching rotation in the American League after adding Wilson to a core that already had Dan Haren, Jered Weaver and Ervin Sanatana. Many now believe the Angels also have one of the most potent offenses after adding Pujols to play along side Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo, Erik Aybar, Torii Hunter, and Morales. With Mike Soscia still at the helm this is a team with incredibly high expectations. The Angels did not make these high profile acquisitions solely to sell jerseys and tickets. They want to reclaim the division and win their first title since 2002. They certainly have the pieces to compete for the foreseeable future.
Texas Rangers – The early 1990′s Buffalo Bills picked up, relocated, changed sports all together and became the Texas Rangers (with the role of Scott Norwood aptly played by Neftali Feliz). After reaching two consecutive World Series after never even winning a single playoff series the Rangers lost their ace to their division rivals. Kind of a tough blow to a team that was a strike away from winning it all). Even so, the Rangers went out and added Japanese phenom Yu Darvish to bolster their rotation. Swap the Rangers rotation with just about any team in baseball (semi-asinine comment) and this lineup is still powerful enough to dub this team a contender. Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler Elvis Andrus, Michael Young, and Mike Napoli are good enough to hang ten runs on any pitcher in the bigs. Seriously, ANY of them. You can pencil this line up into the postseason. Their pitching will determine whether or not they win the division or participate in the inaugural Wild Card Play In game.
New York Yankees – One cannot have a serious discussion about World Series contenders without mentioning the Bronx Bombers, no matter how much it pains the writer. With C.C. Sabathia leading the rotation and Robinson Cano raking in the heart of the lineup it is incredibly hard not to consider this team a favorite year in and year out. Personally, I cannot name another reliable arm on this staff no matter how well Ivan Nova pitched last season and I believe there is a real chance they miss out on the second season all together. But to complete discount them would be ludicrous. If Alex Rodriguez bounces back to some semblance of his old form and Mark Texiera can raise his average, all of a sudden the Pinstripers have a lineup that rivals any in the league. Curtis Granderson emerged as a legitimate MVP caliber player last season and should continue to be a threat atop the Yankee line up. Russell Martin proved he still had plenty in his bat last season and seemed to thrive in big moments (especially against the Red Sox). Factoring in Mariano Rivera, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano and you have one of the most balanced teams in the league 1-25. While there is a chance they miss out on the dance, there is as strong of a possibility that they claim banner 28 this season as well.
Philadelphia Phillies – Since the Phils hoisted the trophy in 2008 they have been perennial favorites. And with good reason. All they have done is build upon the core that brought them to glory and improved in some facet in each offseason. First they added arguably the best pitcher in the bigs Roy Halladay to join farmhand ace Cole Hamels. Then, they added Cliff Lee to give the Phillies the most feared triumvirate in the game. The Roy Oswalt experiment did not work out too well (I guess there is some sort of “One Roy per rotation” rule only the baseball gods know about) but the other former Astro they acquired, Hunter Pence, has worked out quite nicely to this point and time. This offseason, the Phillies continued to add pitching when they sure up their closer hole by signing Jonathan Papelbon to the most lucrative deal a closer has ever received. The good news for Philly is that Ryan Howard will be back sooner than later. The bad news is that the Phillies may never have the same Chase Utley who helped them win in 2008 ever again. Either way, this team will continue to dominate with their pitching and grind out close games with timely hitting. They remain the favorites in the NL East and their window to bring home another banner remains wide open.
Detroit Tigers – For the first time in a long time the city of Detroit has plenty to be happy and excited about. Eminem and Royce Da 5’9 are back in the studio together. General Motors continues to post quarterly profits. The Red Wings are in the playoffs vying for Lord Stanley’s Cup yet again. Hell, the LIONS are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. And the team that plays in Comerica Park have perhaps the most lethal 3-4 hitters the game has seen in quite some time. After losing DH Victor Martinez to a torn ACL, the Tigers shocked everyone by signing Cecil Fielder’s son. The move caught everyone off guard mainly because the Tigers already had one of the best first basemen in the league in Miguel Cabrera. Now, the righty-lefty combo in the middle of the lineup will strike fear into opposing pitchers for at least the next three seasons. With Delmon Young protecting Fielder in the five hole and Austin Jackson setting the table atop the lineup, the Tigers are a team not to be taken for granted. Jose Valverde was one of the best closers in the league last season converting all 49 of his save opportunities. Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit are as solid as setup men come in today’s day and age. Oh yeah, they also have this guy named Justin Verlander. If you haven’t heard of him, look him up. Call it a hunch, but I have a feeling this guy has a future in this league. He’s a pitcher if you didn’t know…
While all of these teams could easily be holding the hardware and scheduling victory parades come November, I firmly believe the Diamondbacks will upset the Rays in October. Justin Upton continues to develop into a superstar while Ian Kennedy emerges as a true ace in the National League. Chris Young seems to be on the verge of putting all of his tools together while Daniel Hudson and Trevor Cahill round out what I see as a perfect trio of starters for a seven game set. It will not come easy as the Rays have somehow put together the most absurd young pitching staff in all of baseball but when all is said and done, Justin will have the last laugh over B.J. in the Upton household. Even then, their sister-from-another-mother Kate will ALWAYS be America’s favorite Upton. Or, at the bare minimum, my favorite Upton.